Human Exceptionalism

Feds: Allow Medical Marijuana!

Attorney General Eric Holder will discuss changes in federal drug law enforcement today–without apparently, discussing changes in medical marijuana policy. That’s a shame–and a missed opportunity.

The MM issue is usually discussed in a way that undermines the rule of law. For example, when they were running for POTUS back in 08, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama promised not to enforce federal law–e.g., to violate their oaths of office. Meanwhile, on the right, politicians refuse to budge on medical marijuana to prove they are hearty drug warriors.

But there is a principled way out of this dilemma, which alas, too few are discussing. The federal Controlled Substances Act currently lists marijuana as a “Schedule I” drug–meaning that it has a “high potential for abuse” and “no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” 

But the science doesn’t bear that out at all. Marijuana clearly has efficacious medical uses.

And it can be medicalized so it doesn’t have to be smoked. For example, I have a very good friend in Canada who is prescribed marijuana, obtained from the pharmacy and delivered in a spray. By the way, it helps relieve the symptoms for which it is prescribed.

What to do? The principled and intellectually honest way would be to change marijuana’s CSA classification. As I wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle back in 2007:

Congress could pass a law tomorrow listing marijuana under Schedule II of the controlled substances law. This means that marijuana would still be considered a drug with “a high potential for abuse” but one that also “has a currently accepted medical use.”

This would hardly be a radical move. It would merely allow doctors to prescribe cannabis according to the same rules currently permitted for far stronger and addicting drugs such as morphine, opium and cocaine. Moreover, and here’s a bitter irony, Marinol – the synthetic version of marijuana (which many patients contend does not work as well as the real McCoy), is listed as a Schedule III drug, meaning it has less of a “potential for abuse” than drugs on Schedule I or II.

I don’t support full legalization of marijuana. But I do think that it should be used aggressively as medicine. 

Bottom line: If morphine can be legally prescribed–and it’s essentially opium–so too should marijuana for diseases or symptoms for which it is proved scientifically to be efficacious. Changing the drug’s CSA classification (I would urge Schedule III) would offer relief to sick people and bring federal law into alignment with empirical reality.  

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